From Manhattan To Main Street: Retail Industry Veteran Kathleen London Opens London Beauty In Michigan
Kathleen London is building upon big-time retail industry experience in Manhattan to succeed as a small-store proprietor on Main Street in Brighton, Mich.
After more than two decades in positions at companies including Thor Equities, Taubman, MaxMara, Sergio Rossi, Danskin and Barneys New York, she’s opened a 700-square-foot location in the Detroit suburb called London Beauty. The brick-and-mortar store follows London Beauty’s e-commerce debut shortly before the holiday season last year.
“Throughout my career as a retail manager and director, I would always tell my friends, ‘I think I would be happier selling lipstick.’ So, here I am selling lipstick,” says London, a native of Hudson, Ohio, who moved back to the Midwest for love in 2017. “There are amazing fierce women doing really cool beauty products that are not only environmentally-friendly, but made in the U.S., small-batch or really interestingly curated. The coolest part of a lot of the indie brands I’ve picked up is the story behind them. That makes them super fun to sell.”
London Beauty is introducing Brighton beauty shoppers to brands they may have only spotted online. It carries roughly 25, including Clove + Hallow, Verso, Take My Face Off, Reina Rebelde, Shiva Rose Beauty, Province Apothecary, Le Prunier, Olverum and Grown Alchemist. London is attracted to cruelty-free, high-performance products that are aesthetically stunning, and scouted many of London Beauty’s brands at Indie Beauty Expo in Los Angeles. She attempts to cultivate a varied selection of natural and scientifically-advanced brands to ensure customers can pinpoint the right products for them, no matter their preferences.
“There are amazing fierce women doing really cool beauty products that are not only environmentally-friendly, but made in the U.S., small-batch or really interestingly curated. The coolest part of a lot of the indie brands I’ve picked up is the story behind them. That makes them super fun to sell.”
“Everyone is reading and on the blogs, but, when I lived in New York, you could go to CAP Beauty or Credo to find green and clean brands, and even the apothecary at Barneys New York for great independent brands, but, when you get to the Midwest, you don’t have as much access to the products. You really have to hunt them down,” says London, adding that, at London Beauty, “We are judgement-free. We will help you rock your bad self any way you want to and give you access to what you read about.”
London strove for London Beauty to be intimate and welcoming. Its design is inspired by a New York apartment. There’s a bookcase bringing to mind a living room, drawers indicating a bedroom and a sink suggesting a bathroom. There are also cheeky British elements alluding to London’s last name and the name of the shop such as a forthcoming couch with a Union Jack. Excluding inventory, London invested around $80,000 to complete the store and hopes to recoup that amount in 12 to 18 months.
In her initial buys, London usually purchases three units per product, but has escalated buys to six units as she begins to understand customer responses to certain products. Le Prunier’s Plum Beauty Oil has been a hit already. London enjoys working with indie beauty brands that are flexible with minimum orders. “They understand that you’re trying to get them into your mix, and you’re trying to get something going just like they are,” she says. “It’s huge when you are starting out to have brands that really want to have a two-way relationship with you by supporting you with events, testers and training.”
“It’s on Main Streets like this where people are turning to physical shopping because they want a relationship with store owners and the brands they are buying. They want to feel a connection in some capacity.”
London will be involved in community events and is throwing her own events at London Beauty. On the first Thursday of every month, she’s hosting a so-called Girl Gang Club at the store focused on a particular theme. On Aug. 2, it’s all about foundation. “It’s a fun girls’ night where you can ask the questions you might have about the topic of the evening,” says London. “You might ask, ‘What the heck is a jade roller, and why do I need one?’”
As London Beauty’s store revs up, London isn’t ignoring its digital presence. Her goal is for London Beauty’s business to be evenly split between the shop and website. London is convinced traditional stores have a future despite having weathered the onslaught of Amazon and the recession as a retail executive. The evidence for their persistence is the early clientele at London Beauty.
“I had someone come from Ann Arbor up here who saw that I had a couple of lines she wanted to buy. Before she bought them, she wanted to play with the products,” says London. “It’s on Main Streets like this where people are turning to physical shopping because they want a relationship with store owners and the brands they are buying. They want to feel a connection in some capacity.”